An extreme amendment to the Kerala Police Act, 2011, to give the local law enforcement more chance to restrain slander has started an uproar with opposition parties, journalist bodies, and civil rights activists noticing a risk to the freedom of the press and free oration in Kerala.
Kerala Governor Arif Muhammad Khan recently signed a pact amending the law to provide the police more power to charge persons who manipulate various communication platforms to defaming fellow people. The law has introduced a new condition, Section 118-A, to the Act. The amendment submits three years of imprisonment and a fine of up to ?10,000 for those condemned for producing, publishing, or sharing demeaning content through any means of communication to intimidate, insult or defame any person.
Congress has responded sharply to the action. Opposition party leader Ramesh Chennithala said that the amendment would change the approach on media freedom, cage free speech, and threaten civil freedoms. Former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram tweeted: “Shocked by the law made by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government of Kerala making a so-called ‘offensive’ post on social media punishable by [three] years in prison”.KPCC president Mullapally Ramachandran stated that the new law gave wide space to law enforcers to tie down on free speech and pester critics, journalists, and commentators into surrender.
B.G. Harindranath, former Law Secretary, Kerala, said the law gave the police complete authority to analyze published and broadcast content and register issues even in the lack of a specific objection. The new law has provoked slander a cognizable violation. The amendment had restored the “same legal vices” the Supreme Court had “trashed” by scrapping Section 66 A of the IT Act.
“Conferring authority on the police to measure mental injury, loss of reputation, and such matters due to dissemination of information would result in overall vitriol. The amendment could shrink the freedom of speech and expression assured under Article 19 (1) of the Constitution”, he said.IUML state general secretary K.P.A. Majeed has slammed the move as an endeavor to restrain the press. Various journalist unions have echoed a similar sentiment.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the amendment targeted defamatory social media posts and online content. It did not seek to constrain reportage, political satire, opinion, free speech, impartial journalism, or commentary. The State Government had often received complaints against the uncontrolled abuse of social media, especially by specific online channels, to establish “inhuman and vile cyber attacks” against individuals and their families under the camouflage of journalism. However, the law did not particularly cite social media posts.
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The Chief Minister said such attacks hit of personal rivalry and have resulted in grievous significance for victims, including suicide. The government has the responsibility to uphold the freedom and dignity of citizens. He added that the “traditional media” worked mainly within the bounds of the regulation. Regardless, “certain” online media had spare respect for the law and broke the rights of others with privilege. Such platforms have “created an atmosphere of lawlessness that could change the social order, which cannot be allowed”, the Chief Minister said. The government was receptive to “creative opinions and suggestions” regarding the law, he said.